Discovering popular sea vegetables in Japan

Sea vegetables (seaweeds) are algae that live in the sea. Like plants on land, sea vegetables perform photosynthesis and grows by absorbing water and nutrients. Sea vegetables mostly live thrives in rocky areas with a strong current, and breeding is carried out by spores that swim in the sea. They are divided into three categories based on the leaf color: Green Algae (Chlorella and Spirulina), Brown Algae (Wakame, Kombu and Hijiki) and Red Algae (Nori and Dulse) . The difference in color is a result of the depth of the water in which the sea vegetables grow. The color ranges from green in shallow water (where sunlight reaches), to red and brown in deeper, darker water. There are approximately 20,000 kinds of sea vegetables in the world, of which 50 are regularly eaten today – most notably brown algae, such as wakame and kombu in Japan.



Kombu grows in the ocean at a depth of 16 to 23 feet (5 to 7 meters) by photosynthesis.

Kombu grows as long as 32 feet (10 meters) in length, or more, with an approximate width of 2 feet (60 cm), or more. The first year’s growth of kombu will die back, while the second year's growth is larger and thicker, regenerating from the remaining root. Harvest season if from mid-July to mid-September. About 90% of Japanese kombu is sourced from Hokkaido, with additional coming from the Sanriku coast in Tohoku (Aomori, Iwate, and Miyagi Prefectures). In Japanese cuisine, kombu is primarily used in dashi broth. (pic# 8-9, 9-9)



The most popular sea vegetable in Japanese cuisine, wakame is an indispensable ingredient used in such everyday dishes as miso soup and salad. Wakame is a year-old seaweed, and the harvest season is spring. One of the most well-known type is Naruto Wakame, which grows in the powerful tidal whirlpools of the Tokushima Naruto Channel at Tokushima Prefecture. The current in the strait, the fastest in Japan, creates high quality wakame with a silky texture. The coast of the Sanriku region in northeastern Japan – where cliffs and reefs exist in ocean currents -- produces flavorful Sanriku wakame, which has a meaty texture. The long slippery leaves are comprised of three parts – leaves, stems, and roots -- but it is the leaves, called wakame, that are the most commonly used in cooking, for such dishes as miso soup fillings. Freshly picked wakame is naturally brown, but by pouring hot water over it, it changes to a bright green.


There are two different kinds available – fresh salted wakame is blanched in hot water and salted to preserve it during storage and transportation; dried wakame which is cut into small pieces for easy handling, then dried. Salted wakame will expand to triple its volume as much as after being soaked, while dried wakame will expand as much as eight to ten times its volume. 


Fresh Salted Wakame


Dried Wakame